Framing Our Future Interviews: Hilary Rosen and Caroline Wheaton

Hilary has been an artist for over 40 years.  She did her BA Hons at Nottingham University and her Masters at the Royal College of Art.   Central St Martins was to follow to hone her printmaking skills.

Caroline is a self-taught artist and sculptor having only worked full time on her artistic practice for the last 5 years.  Her previous roles were all corporate with art in the background as passion and hobby.  She was able to learn her craft through the fantastic world of adult education.

Having compared our wonderfully different artistic backgrounds, we launched into our interview…

HR:  So….What’s been the biggest driver compelling you to create works over the last couple of years?

CW.  For me, It’s the ability to hone my skills and exhibit.  I am still fairly new to sculpture and certainly new to doing art on a full time basis, so the desire to experiment, get better and ultimately exhibit, drives me constantly.  What about you?

HR: So… being in lockdown, I found myself looking at Greek mythology.  I’d never really known much about it …I got very interested in Pandora’s Box which is in this show.  That led on to the Three Fates…. which seemed apposite for lockdown!… and also Asclepius who is the Greek god of medicine  About 20 years ago, there was a woman’s show about Pandora’s Box that I was in, so it’s interesting re-doing another version of that almost, using familiar imagery.

CW: Is Greek mythology something you will continue to work with, do you think?

HR:  I’m doing an exhibition at UCH starting April 8th which will have a lot of the Greek Mythology imagery in it – something delayed from lockdown – but actually I love working on different things so I’m going to take a step back now and work on some new things.  

CW:  Ok…so moving on from lockdown ….What advice would you give to artists just starting out?   

HR:  I think determination is key. You do have to work and work and work.   That …and marrying someone with more money than you!!!  [Both laughing!]  Joking aside, it is that element of knowing there is some kind of support behind you because there is a big cost outlay with art.  Paying for framing, materials, transport etc.   But….no…I think be determined, don’t give up and have a thick skin.  How about you?  What advice would you give?

CW:  I think I’d say, “Join some local groups”.  That notion of starting your network, getting some like minded souls around you and hopefully, from that, getting some opportunities to exhibit without costing you a fortune.   Just the impetus you get from doing things together.  From this, your confidence grows, hopefully the network widens and opportunities increase.  As you said earlier, at the beginning you need support so hopefully a group prevents that feeling of isolation.

CW: There’s a question here….What do you find most interesting about other Women’s art work.

HR:  I’m not sure I am drawn to Women’s art particularly.  I am just drawn to Art in general.   Works speaks to me rather than any gender.

CW:  I totally agree.  For me a big part of the definition of feminism is defending women’s rights on the basis of achieving equality between the sexes.  It is something I feel strongly about so I think it would be weird of me to pick something out on the basis of gender when I think gender should be treated equally!

CW:  So…which artists are inspiring you now?

HR:  I’ve been painting for over thirty years and I still take inspiration from some of the same sources now.  I’ve always been interested in the German Expressionists.  At the Royal College, the guy who used to run it, Peter Franzer, he was in the Belgian Resistance so that was a formative influence.   I go to see as many exhibitions as I can, but frankly it’s taking a day off painting!  

CW:  Yes, trying to get that element of juggling right!  

HR:  Exactly that decision in the morning – to the studio or take a day out.  I am looking forward to the Pissarro at Oxford soon.   And you?

CW:  As someone who works with marble, I must confess I’m a bit Instagram obsessed with what Alasdair Thomson creates with marble at the moment. He creates perfect marble replicas of clothes and trainers etc.  Stunning!  Really contemporary but such traditional material and beauty at the same time.

More importantly at the moment for me, I’m taking most joy out of seeing local sculptors closer to home.  I’m part of the Surrey Sculpture Society and most of our members are not famous at all, but they’re so hugely talented….so knowledgeable about their craft.  Being a “famous” artist always seems so serendipitous  – I often question what the difference is between the work of those whom we are “told” to like and collect and those who are equally or perhaps more talented but who pass by “unnoticed”.

Talking of making a “success” of art …..what do you wish you had been told about navigating the business side of the art world?  

HR:  Well I find this really interesting because when I was at the Royal College it was never discussed.  

CW:  Really?  Not at all?  In an art degree!

HR:  No …latterly I found out there’s now a separate business course which people can take but back in the day…well, it wasn’t an option when I was there back in the 70’s, early 80’s….we’re going back to marrying someone with more money, aren’t we!  [Both laughing again!]

Seriously….in terms of pricing it’s really hard.  I have had a relationship with a gallery in Hamburg for over 30 years so the gallerist there, she did the original pricing and got quite good money for my work so ever since I just price in line with that.   I was lucky to have that expertise around. It’s really important to have consistent pricing across your outlets so it’s been easy to keep the same price here as there, you know.

CW:  Interesting, I’ve written the same topic down….pricing.  Like you, I was lucky to meet someone early on who gave me some advice.  He is a successful artist and said always have a concrete method of pricing your art…he suggested a price per cm2…. so that everything is then based on that and you don’t start making random judgements between different pieces of your own work.  “Oh…I think that one’s not quite as good so I’ll price it less” ….you know, how we all get self-critical about some works or prefer others.  He said, let the public be the judge of that.

It’s having those touch points to know how much to price it for…so that you can sell it and earn a living.  

HR:  That phrase…earning a living.  It’s so difficult.  I don’t know any artists that don’t supplement their income with teaching, or for the younger generation, some of them have great digital skills which they can sell too.   And like we were saying earlier, you do need money to lay out for things like framing…

CW….yes, for sculptors casting and moulding costs are a big outlay so you have to invest before you sell.  Back to that difference between artists who are “discovered” and the public are encouraged to collect and buy and others, equally talented, who can’t make that same living!

And so 2022…what’s in store?

HR:  I’ve hopefully got a show in Hamburg coming up…I say hopefully because the last show I did there was pre-Brexit …and now, I’m not sure how we get work over there or what all the details are.  

CW:  yes… lots of additional costs and paperwork. I’ve found that, doing some of my work in France.  Luckily I produce work in both countries so I’m not always dealing with shipping from one to the other.   We are all becoming a bit reliant on people who already have that expertise now – shippers and galleries etc.  Definitely another hurdle.

HR:  Yes as a gallery, the place in Hamburg deals with the US and other countries already, so hopefully they will already know what’s what.  

What are you up to at the moment?

CW:  At the moment, I have a big group exhibition in Teddington which I am helping organise but I need to get back creating when that ends, so 2022 for me ….I want to make some more outdoor sculpture….you know, bigger pieces… and hopefully use some newly acquired skills I have in mould making!  I need to get using them before I forget everything I just learned!

So final question……Are you conscious of being a role model?

HR:  No!  Not particularly.  [Both laugh!]

CW:  But what if someone said to you:  “Hilary, you are such a role model”.  What would your response be?

HR:  But I just do what I have done for the last 30 years.  I don’t think about it really.  I’ve juggled children and art.  Back in the day, I used to use any money I earned to pay for childcare.  When I was a student, if you had children, then you couldn’t be taken seriously as an artist.  So when I was at art college, you couldn’t mention you had children.   Women artists just didn’t have children.  People always reference Barbara Hepworth, but she had childcare.  I relied on my mum for childcare.  I don’t know what I’d have done without her.  But you definitely didn’t mention you had kids.  

CW:  Wow!  I think that story is completely in line with being a role model.  The fact that you cared so much about art you made those kind of choices – to deny you had children!   The work ethic you have and the passion for your craft.   There’s definitely a role model element in that!

So….You might advise people to do it differently now if people asked! 

HR:  Well the joy is that people can do differently.  They don’t have to think like that.

CW:  Yes absolutely.  I find that hugely inspiring.  It’s interesting …. There aren’t that many years between us in age, but you realise the real progress made, in that short time, that I just never had to think like that.   Whilst I worked in a very male business environment, I never had to pretend not to have kids.   In just those 10 years, I had a different set of permissions to work in.

HR:  Although I think in some professions, you still find that senior women are generally the ones who don’t have children.   I guess it depends on the culture. 

Do you feel like a role model, then.  As an artist?

CW.  No.. Well …no more so than when I worked in business.  I think it’s important for anyone and everyone with any kind of age and experience to be a role model for others and to the next generation. I don’t think that changes whatever your walk of life.  It’s a big responsibility and we should treat it as such.   

I think also we’re much more inclined to tell our daughters that they can be or do anything.  And encourage them like that.   But they need support.  To support them in that is a responsibility in itself so the more role models they can draw on the better. 

You can see more about Hilary and Caroline and their work at:

https://www.hilaryrosen.co.uk/  and https://carolinewheaton.com/